A 6-year-old boy's day off from school Friday left him with a vivid story to tell his classmates, after he was seized — and eventually released — by an alligator in South Florida. The attack occurred at a wildlife refuge near Boynton Beach, Fla., where Joseph Welch had taken his son, Joey, for a canoe ride.
As Welch, a native of Rhode Island who now lives in Pompano Beach, says in a Morning Edition interview airing Tuesday, his idea had been to do "something new and different."
As they waited in line to rent canoes near the headquarters of the Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge, Joey was attracted by the water at the bottom of a boat ramp. Thinking he was looking at solid ground, Joey put his foot down on plants floating in the water — and fell in.
An 8-foot-long alligator had been lurking in the shallows; it clamped onto the boy's right arm. Joey began screaming.
Seeing his son in the grip of a gator's jaws, Joseph Welch rushed over and began punching the animal — something he later compared to hitting a cinder block. And crucially, he resisted the urge to try to pull his son away.
"I didn't want to get into a tug-of-war with the gator," he told The Sun Sentinel Monday. "I didn't want my son's arm ripped off."
Bystanders also ran to help Joey. And standing in waist-deep water, Welch managed to maneuver his son and the animal up and around so that one man, who had been in the same line to rent a canoe, could kick the alligator's underside. Eventually, the animal let go of the boy's arm.
Joey escaped the ordeal with scrapes and bruises on his arm and torso. He went to a Fort Lauderdale hospital, where he received antibiotics. His father was unharmed, except for a bruised right hand.
As for the alligator, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission says that in keeping with its standard policy, trappers were sent to the boat ramp, where they captured and killed the reptile.
"We are extremely relieved the child made it out of this potentially deadly incident with only minor injuries," said Rolf Olson, acting project leader of Loxahatchee and Hobe Sound NWR. "This really could have ended very badly. We thank the members of the public who saw this happening and selflessly rushed in to do the right thing."
Olsen also reminded the public to be very careful when visiting areas where alligators live.